(CBS) There is no test to screen for ovarian cancer, but a new survey finds many women mistakenly believe pap smears can detect it. Doctors say it’s a misconception that could put them at risk for missing some early signs of ovarian cancer.
The new Myriad Genetics Cancer Risk survey found that 71% of women nationwide wrongly believe pap smears test for ovarian cancer, but in fact pap smears only screen for cervical cancer.
Dr. Ifeyinwa Stitt with Luminis Health in Annapolis, Maryland said that because health guidelines now recommend pap smears every three to five years, too many women skip annual checkups that could catch potential early symptoms of ovarian cancer, like pelvic pain, bloating or low appetite.
“By not being seen annually, we lose the opportunity to screen for some of these subtle presentations,” said Dr. Stitt.
According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 20,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year. Across all patients, the disease has a 50% survival rate over five years. But if it’s caught early at stage one, odds of survival improve to more than 90%.
“You must see your physician annually. That’s the number one thing,” said Dr. Stitt.
For those with family history, genetic testing can help identify risk, including for those who carry the BRCA-1 gene mutation which increases the chance of multiple cancers, including ovarian cancer and breast cancer. Patients who know they are carriers have an advantage for treatment and for prevention of cancer in the first place.
Katya Lezin didn’t know she was a BRCA-1 carrier when she was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 46.
“My kids at the time were 11, 15 and 17, and I was facing the very real possibility that I may not be able to see them into adulthood,” said Lezin.
Lezin says because her doctors thought to perform genetic testing for BRCA-1, it helped them better treat her cancer. More than 10 years after her initial diagnosis, she is living proof that you can survive the disease. She encourages women to consult with their doctors to see if genetic testing is right for them.
“Let’s arm ourselves with the right information and be proactive about our health before you get that call that says, ‘I don’t know how to tell you this,'” said Lezin.